‘We all need to be near each other’: Senior facility constructs protective pavilion for in-person visits

'You don't realize when you're apart this much, how much you miss the other person'

ROANOKE, Va. – Visitors at a Roanoke senior facility are now able to see and touch their loved ones.

The Brandon Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center transformed a gazebo on the property into a coronavirus-safe meeting room for patients and visitors this week. Workers constructed a plexiglass barrier between the resident and the visitors, but left holes with gloves so the visitors can safely touch the patients.

“This takes a toll on all of us,” said Brandon Oaks executive director Esteban Duran-Ballen. “We all need to be near each other and to be able to touch each other.”

Horace Light and his daughter, Diane Tyler, tried out the new visitation setup on Thursday.

“It’s so good to come and see your loved one and be a part of their life again, at least for a few minutes,” Horace Light said.

They came to see Doris Light, who is Horace’s wife of 60 years and Diane’s mother. Doris relocated to Brandon Oaks after a medical emergency in March; Horace said they had not seen Doris in person for four months before this visit.

“This was like being on our first date,” Horace said. “She and I did everything together. Going to church, going out to eat, being family...we were always together.”

Horace and his daughter both say the ability to touch made the difference with Doris, who has dealt with dementia for years.

“Her memory is not great right now, but that touch can hopefully bring back some memories at least,” Tyler said.

“You don’t realize when you’re apart like that this much, how much you miss the other person,” Horace added.

Brandon Oaks is already planning to construct another coronavirus-safe vestibule at their assisted living facility across Route 11.

“It has been incredibly special to see people reunite, touch each other, and hug each other,” Duran-Ballen said.

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